Steve Rosenbaum

Steve Rosenbaum, filmmaker, curator, archivist, photographer, blogger, author, and founder of five companies

“What scares me where we are today… 4chan and Reddit — I look and I see a technology let loose that amplifies anger. Think deeply about a way to use technology to create meaningful, rational, balanced and thoughtfully engaging conversations that aren’t just folks throwing rocks at one another.”

Pronouns: He/Him

Meet Steve Rosenbaum.

Steve is a filmmaker, curator, archivist, photographer, blogger, author, and founder of five companies in the video space. He blogs for Huffington Post, MediaPost, and speaks at TED, SXSW, CES, and DLD. During Steve’s recent TED Residency — so intellectually dizzying he termed it a “bootcamp for brains” — he explored our “fake news” crisis and kept a running diary of his thoughts and findings. You can follow Steve on Twitter.

What Does He Do?

On September 11th, 2001, Steve was the owner of a production company, Broadcast News Network. That day, he was set to dispatch nine crews to shoot a reality show about NYC pet owners. As they witnessed the first building go down from their Fifth Avenue conference room, the assignment changed. Steve directed his staff to head down to Ground Zero — where they shot for ten straight hours. He recalls the direction he gave: “Look at the news crews and what they’re shooting and point in the opposite direction. We got faces, streets, and voices, and not just people staring up at buildings.” Following this double shift, Steve gathered his troops and decided to shoot for seven days, thus the moniker for the documentary, “7 Days in September.”
When he sought feedback for his rough-cut his trusted confidantes were frank that the film did not reflect the diversity of NYC. Steve placed an ad in the Village Voice and received 100 submissions which later became part of 7 Days.

Steve was intentional about 7 Days starting on 9/11, not on 9/12: “We’re making this film for our children’s children. Not anyone who lived through it. Not for anyone who had parents who told them about it.”

For this 9/11 Steve reviewed footage from the more than 500 hours he’s amassed and has pulled a number of 9/11 witness interviews and posted them.

This clip from 7 Days itself — “Union Square Face Off” – is particularly heartbreaking.
Just watch it.

How Did He Get Into This Work?

Steve comes from a family of storytellers, authors, and journalists. At the university, he was both a News Director and General Manager of his college radio station. He was New York’s first Entrepreneur At Large under Mayor Bloomberg, and won the prestigious Journalism Laureate from Perdue University.

There has always been a civic nature to Steve’s work, even it was unintentional. For Unfiltered, a show he created for MTV in the ’90’s, he recalls arguing with the network against a traditional story arc. He recalled thinking, “We have these new tools, and they give people the ability to tell their stories. In the past there was a smartypants filmmaker like me shaping even first-person storytelling. Now I understood: you just tell it, and we’ll edit it.”

While Steve is too humble to call himself the father of “user-generated content,” many peers credit him as such. He is the author of two books – Curation Nation.

Steve has always been someone who embraces change and thinks the technology we’re seeing will drive us toward a better, more democratic and equitable future. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t think today is fraught with problems:

“I’ve been a storyteller and filmmaker my whole life,” says Rosenbaum, but until September 11th, Rosenbaum had always been able to tell stories about other people’s conflicts and crisis. Then the buildings fell. His film “7 Days In September” is widely acclaimed – thought of by many as the only digital document that captured not just the attacks, but the city’s powerful and positive response. He donated the footage – 500 hours – to the 9/11 Memorial, with the stipulation that he be permitted to tell the story of its construction. He’s now working on a new project about 9/11; it’s a secret for now.

How Did He Come to Civic Hall?

As a civic technologist, Steve has long been adjacent to Civic Hall.

“After my time at the TED Residency — with a focus on Fake News — I was looking for a space to grow my community of socially active technologists.”

What Project Is He Working On?

Steve is working on a film about the 9/11 memorial, a new book, working to find capital for video companies and startups, and working on civic tech with a focus on video.

What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?

There were 100 undocumented people who died in the 9/11 buildings — Towers 1 and 2. Since many died nameless, an immigrant rights group diligently worked to locate their families, and their identities, so when names wrapped around the memorial pools their names were listed and acknowledged. “In 2004 there was no discussion about leaving them out. No debate about who deserves to be memorialized. I don’t think that would happen today. I think Trump would say, ‘“They were undocumented. They weren’t Americans and they don’t deserve to be remembered.”’ That scares the shit out of me.”

“This day gives us a powerful framework to think about the nature of how we define “being an American,” and if it really is about a piece of paper, or something more. Use 9/11 as a day to ask yourself, “Who is an American?”’

While Steve tasks us to be introspective on 9/11, he has a broader call to action beyond the day:

“What scares me where we are today… 4chan and Reddit — I look and I see a technology let loose that amplifies anger. Think deeply about a way to use technology to create meaningful, rational, balanced and thoughtfully engaging conversations that aren’t just folks throwing rocks at one another.”